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Uptown Family Swing – June 14, 2014

Before going to New York, I do some research to figure out how I’m going to amuse myself. Music is always my first priority, followed by museums and food. I am not interested in shopping or Broadway shows, which is why I prefer to go alone, rather than en famille. This time around I was scrutinizing the Jazz at Lincoln Center website, and although there was nothing that I just had to see at Dizzy’s Coca Cola, on the calendar I ran across this. Called “Uptown Family Swing,” it was a performance by a youth dance troupe led by Aubrey Lynch II at the United Palace Theater way up at 175th Street (farther north in Manhattan than I had ever been). It was also free. My other option for this time slot was to go to Queens to see the Mets play the Padres (or was it the Brewers?). I opted for this show, because from my base I could simply “take the A train” a few stops north and I would be there.

So I’m waiting in line for my complementary ticket when a dreadlocked parent arrived with a ticket. His kid wasn’t going to dance that day so he decided not to attend the show. Everybody else in line was in pairs or small groups; I was the only loner, so he gave his ticket to me. That got me in early. It was general admission, so I decided to march right on up to the front row.

The opening act was the US Army Jazz Ambassadors, a highly competent, swinging big band. They did four numbers. Then intermission. After 15 minutes or so, in come the members of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, filing in from a side door just next to where I was seated. There’s Wynton! There’s Ted Nash! There’s Marcus Printup! They’re playing in the pit … the world’s greatest big band in the pit!

The program advertised it as “a toe-tappin’ spectacular celebrating the timeless music of Duke Ellington.” That sounds about right. I can’t begin to describe (well, I can begin to describe, but I’m afraid any description I make will be woefully inadequate) how good the Ellington charts sound when played by this band of absolute aces. The program:

1. C Jam Blues
2. Ko-Ko
3. Braggin’ in Brass
4. Harlem Airshaft
5. Happy Go Lucky Local
6. Feet Bone
7. It Don’t Mean a Thing
8. Mood Indigo
9. Sepia Panorama
10. Kinda Dukish / Rockin’ in Rhythm
11. Chinoiserie
12. C Jam Blues (reprise)

This was without a doubt the musical highlight of my trip. Because of the dancers, the enthusiasm of the crowd, and the quality of the music, it was an experience to remember. I forgot all my petty anxieties and simply absorbed the music and the ambiance.

I think this is a Dominican neighborhood, but after the show I went across the street, found a Spanish tapas place, had a couple glasses of wine and the empanada del día. I headed back down to 125th Street contented. I still had another show to see that evening!


Photos here.

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August 2018

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